by Rain Trueax
Tuesday was a morning of panic, which fortunately was eased by gaining information. That morning Paul had killed a bug in our bedroom. Because he hadn’t seen one like it before, he went online and found it likely was a kissing bug (triatomine) and had been full of blood. Their bite can lead to Chagas, [a rather scary disease].
We hoped our bug wasn't this one as some resemble it [how to identify a kissing bug]. It turned out it was-- the blood was a major proof. For us, the scariest part of what we learned didn't involve humans and Chagas-- it was our cats. In some regions, the kissing bug bite can be a death sentence if it leads to Chagas. In everything I read, it said for cats infected, because it can't be cured and they can carry the disease, the only answer is euthanize them. Ack! We bring our cats with us to keep them safe and this could happen? I was in a dither to put it mildly.
We went online to look for information specifically to where we are, Tucson. It turns out infection happens when the bug bites and also defecates where it bit. The feces are where the disease causing parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, can enter a body and lead to the disease and its terrible results. It appears that in this area the kissing bugs do not defecate near the bite. From what I read, the only cases of Chagas in Arizona have been Bisbee and there to people who had traveled to countries where it's more prevalent-- Mexico or South and Central America.
The link says there may be 300,000 human cases of Chagas in this country with many not showing symptoms as it can lay dormant for as much as 30 years before symptoms show up. Worse, the bug injects a little pain killer with its bite; so victims may not know they were bit. They could think the itching bite later was a mosquito.
Scary scary scary. So we called Tucson experts to get the local situation-- first pest control and then the veterinarian we use when down here. They both assured us no Chagas has come from the kissing bugs here—but the [bugs are here] and in large numbers in some areas. 40% do carry that parasite in their feces but the method of biting is why no cases-- so far.
We were told to spray around our foundation, using one safe for pets in the areas where they go and something else where they don’t. For ecological reasons, I hate spraying for insects (think helpful ones like butterflies, bees, etc.) but there is no option if we want to be safe regarding our cats.
At the veterinarian's office, the receptionist said she has been bitten by them and her bites have itched a lot for a few days but not other results. Since we have no itches, it looks like the blood our bedroom bug most likely had come from outside before it entered the house. They supposedly hang out in packrat dens and mostly emerge in April when the rats leave the dens. The bug then goes looking for fresh blood sources.
We then turned to wondering how it got into the house. The screens are tight. It wasn't seen flying in the house. The most likely possibility for me is the laundry. We had hung it out to dry that day and possibly the bug flew into pants or shirts. It was found near the closet where it was killed.
One other issue is if you see one in your home, don't touch it. Ranch Boss killed this one with a paper towel even before he knew what it was. The probability of getting Chagas from touching the bug would only be if someone had a small open wound.
I had another blog planned for today but this seemed more important. I know many here travel into areas where the kissing bug might have Chagas and be more prone to defecate into the bite. If travelers get home, later get sick, it's important to tell their doctor of the possibility of something that would not be in their home base. Also it's important for those who live in areas where the bugs are possible; and with climate change, those regions might expand.
For me, after I felt relief that our cats weren't likely to be infected, this is not about panic but about awareness. What Chagas attacks is evidently primarily the heart, and there are treatments for humans. Hopefully, there will be more treatments for animals (for now, horses and cats are out of luck) but the big thing is to tell doctors if symptoms show up (listed in links above).
Even before this, we had been talking how we needed to both fumigate our trailer and spray with insecticides on its undercarriage to avoid carrying with us something Oregon doesn't want. All travelers should be aware of this as we live in a time where many go to areas where they can bring back something they had not intended.